SHIRLEY -- A group of Garrison Road residents and a landowner came to the selectmen Monday night with a shared intent: Fixing the dirt road three of them live on, which is in rough shape.
But it turns out their stretch of Garrison Road, which is unpaved past Pole #10 and where five homes, including theirs, are located, is a private way.
Brad Pulvermacher and his wife didn't know that when they bought their house five years ago, they said. Peter Lehman, who built his house at the road's dead end, said he found out 10 years ago. He's lived there since 2000.
The selectmen said they wanted to help, at least with advice and direction.
Town Administrator Mike McGovern explained. "Part of the challenge is that the town doesn't own the land past Pole #10," he said, although the assessor's map shows Garrison Road extending all the way.
Lehman said his property gets the most runoff. The road drains into his driveway, he said, and it's worse than ever this year, with "six inches of mud" he has to slog through to get to his front door.
Referencing a letter he'd written to the board about the matter, Lehman said: "I'm hoping there's a temporary if not a permanent fix for all that runoff." He's been shoveling the water into a nearby fire pond, he said, but that's only a short term solution and a partial one at that.
Selectman Chairman Debra Flagg said she'd driven down the dirt end of Garrison but didn't get as far as Lehman's house.
That was two months ago. It's worse now. "You haven't seen anything yet," Lehman told her.
The road was a near-washout when Town McGovern drove out there one sunny morning. "I'd heard stories ... but I wasn't prepared for what I saw," he said.
Selectman Bryan Sawyer went during a heavy rain and could envision the mess Lehman and the other residents described. "It's unbelievable!" he said. "We know it's an issue."
The question is, how can the town help?
"We can't just pave it," McGovern said, even if Garrison Road past Pole #10 was an accepted town road, which can only happen with Town Meeting's say-so.
Anyway, to do the job right from the get-go, an engineering study should be done, McGovern said, a costly undertaking it itself.
As it is, it's up to the landowners.
McGovern said he'd spoken with the conservation agent, who suggested homeowners could take action together. They could, for example, divert water to the other side of the road and put in culverts. They'd need to check with abutters as a legal matter, he said, but wouldn't need to go before town boards.
McGovern and Town Clerk Bill Oelfke, also vice chairman of the Planning Board, sketched out how the road acceptance process works.
When a developer presents town boards with a subdivision plan, say to build houses on a road created for that purpose, a check-list of items would need to be taken care of before the road can go before Town Meeting for acceptance as a town way, such as installing culverts, building berms or other drainage measures. Until then, the developer still owns the road and is responsible for maintaining it.
Apparently, that didn't happen in this case, even though building permits must have been issued for those five houses.
So why, the residents asked, does the town plow past their homes?
It's a good-neighbor gesture, Selectman Enrico Cappucci said. "We're doing you a favor."
He was sympathetic, however, to the resident's plight, as were the other board members and McGovern, who said he'd be happy to sit down with them to brainstorm possible solutions.
The group agreed to meet with McGovern and Sawyer said he'd come, too.
Cappucci suggested that in the meantime, McGovern might reach out to Montachusett Regional Planning Commission to see if there's state aid the homeowners could tap into.